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Marginal Tax Rates and Income: New Time Series Evidence

  • Karel Mertens
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    Using new narrative measures of exogenous variation in marginal tax rates associated with postwar tax reforms in the US, this study estimates short run elasticities of taxable income of around 1.2 based on time series from 1946 to 2012. Elasticities are larger in the top 1% of the income distribution but are also positive and statistically significant for other income groups. Previous time series studies of tax returns data have found little evidence for income responses to taxes outside the top of the income distribution. The different results in this study arise because of additional efforts to account for dynamics, expectations and especially the endogeneity of tax policy decisions. Marginal rate cuts lead to increases in real GDP and declines in unemployment. This study also presents evidence that the responses are to marginal rather than average tax rates. Counterfactual tax cuts targeting the top 1% alone have positive effects on economic activity and incomes outside of the top 1% but increase inequality in pre-tax incomes. The data and methodology in this study do not permit any conclusions about the impact of tax rate changes targeting lower income taxpayers alone.

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    File URL: http://www.nber.org/papers/w19171.pdf
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    Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 19171.

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    Date of creation: Jun 2013
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    Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:19171
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    1. Mertens, Karel & Ravn, Morten O, 2009. "Understanding the Aggregate Effects of Anticipated and Unanticipated Tax Policy Shocks," CEPR Discussion Papers 7505, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
    2. Seth H. Giertz, 2010. "The Elasticity of Taxable Income during the 1990s: New Estimates and Sensitivity Analyses," Southern Economic Journal, Southern Economic Association, vol. 77(2), pages 406-433, October.
    3. Karel Mertens & Morten O. Ravn, 2012. "Empirical Evidence on the Aggregate Effects of Anticipated and Unanticipated US Tax Policy Shocks," American Economic Journal: Economic Policy, American Economic Association, vol. 4(2), pages 145-81, May.
    4. Christina D. Romer & David H. Romer, 2014. "The Incentive Effects of Marginal Tax Rates: Evidence from the Interwar Era," American Economic Journal: Economic Policy, American Economic Association, vol. 6(3), pages 242-81, August.
    5. Morten Ravn & Karel Mertens, 2012. "The Dynamic Effects of Personal and Corporate Income Tax Changes in the United States," 2012 Meeting Papers 638, Society for Economic Dynamics.
    6. Triest, Robert K., 1998. "Econometric Issues in Estimating the Behavioral Response to Taxation: A Nontechnical Introduction," National Tax Journal, National Tax Association, vol. 51(n. 4), pages 761-72, December.
    7. Robert J. Barro & Chaipat Sahasakul, 1983. "Measuring the Average Marginal Tax Rate from the Individual Income Tax," NBER Working Papers 1060, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    8. GONÇALVES, Silvia & KILIAN, Lutz, 2003. "Bootstrapping Autoregressions with Conditional Heteroskedasticity of Unknown Form," Cahiers de recherche 2003-01, Universite de Montreal, Departement de sciences economiques.
    9. Mertens, Karel & Ravn, Morten O., 2014. "A reconciliation of SVAR and narrative estimates of tax multipliers," Journal of Monetary Economics, Elsevier, vol. 68(S), pages S1-S19.
    10. Christina D. Romer & David H. Romer, 2010. "The Macroeconomic Effects of Tax Changes: Estimates Based on a New Measure of Fiscal Shocks," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 100(3), pages 763-801, June.
    11. Anton Braun, R., 1994. "Tax disturbances and real economic activity in the postwar United States," Journal of Monetary Economics, Elsevier, vol. 33(3), pages 441-462, June.
    12. Martin Feldstein, 1993. "The Effect of Marginal Tax Rates on Taxable Income: A Panel Study of the1986 Tax Reform Act," NBER Working Papers 4496, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    13. Nezih Guner & Remzi Kaygusuz & Gustavo Ventura, 2013. "Income Taxation of U.S. Households: Facts and Parametric Estimates," Working Papers 705, Barcelona Graduate School of Economics.
    14. Benjamin Born & Alexandra Peter & Johannes Pfeifer, 2011. "Fiscal News and Macroeconomic Volatility," Bonn Econ Discussion Papers bgse08_2011, University of Bonn, Germany.
    15. Emmanuel Saez & Joel Slemrod & Seth H. Giertz, 2012. "The Elasticity of Taxable Income with Respect to Marginal Tax Rates: A Critical Review," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 50(1), pages 3-50, March.
    16. Susan Yang, Shu-Chun, 2005. "Quantifying tax effects under policy foresight," Journal of Monetary Economics, Elsevier, vol. 52(8), pages 1557-1568, November.
    17. Feldstein, Martin, 1995. "Effect of Marginal Tax Rates on Taxable Income: A Panel Study of the 1986 Tax Reform Act," Scholarly Articles 2766676, Harvard University Department of Economics.
    18. Emmanuel Saez, 2001. "Using Elasticities to Derive Optimal Income Tax Rates," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 68(1), pages 205-229.
    19. Craig Burnside & Martin Eichenbaum & Jonas Fisher, 2003. "Fiscal Shocks and Their Consequences," NBER Working Papers 9772, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    20. Alan J. Auerbach & Yuriy Gorodnichenko, 2012. "Measuring the Output Responses to Fiscal Policy," American Economic Journal: Economic Policy, American Economic Association, vol. 4(2), pages 1-27, May.
    21. Karel Mertens & Morten Overgaard Ravn, 2010. "Online Appendix to "Understanding the Aggregate Effects of Anticipated and Unanticipated Tax Policy Shocks"," Technical Appendices 09-221, Review of Economic Dynamics.
    22. Gruber, Jon & Saez, Emmanuel, 2002. "The elasticity of taxable income: evidence and implications," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 84(1), pages 1-32, April.
    23. Robert J. Barro & Chaipat Sahasakul, 1983. "Measuring the Average Marginal Tax Rates from Social Security and the Individual Income Tax," University of Chicago - George G. Stigler Center for Study of Economy and State 29, Chicago - Center for Study of Economy and State.
    24. Raj Chetty, 2008. "Is the Taxable Income Elasticity Sufficient to Calculate Deadweight Loss? The Implications of Evasion and Avoidance," NBER Working Papers 13844, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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